My adventures in HR come to an end soon, and I’ve been asked (and ask myself) whether my return to “real work” (as they put it) is something I look forward to or dread. A bit of both, to be honest. But for the record, that “real work” bullshit is totally bogus, because I’ve worked my HR ass off!

But lessons learned should also be lessons shared.

A few caricatures will suffice to illustrate what I’ve had to endure:

The action hero. These are employees who only want to do ‘sexy’ jobs. High-profile, win-or-die projects that catapult them to stardom and bring the attention they covet. They want to be employee of the month, most valuable player, teacher’s pet and golden child all rolled into one.

HR managers love action heroes.

Like lemmings racing to be first, the trick is to defer their cliff. You can’t just give them the sexy denouement straight up. Like the island in The Island (2005), good HR Managers keep action heroes in the lottery for as long as possible. Perk here, privilege there, “Keep up the good work, mate!” and a sly wink — that’s all it takes. Clockwork soldiers = my favourite human resource.

The grey man. Anything but grey, they think they’re invisible and thus untouchable merely because they work so damn hard to get off your radar (which only works to put them on your radar). Diamonds among icecubes they may not be, but they do have a genuine super-power: the uncanny ability to pinpoint the 51st percentile.

This is double-plus HR useful.

Grey Men do their work, but only just. Grey Men avoid complaints, but only just. Grey Men also live in constant fear, hypervigilant to exposure: all it takes is a suggestion they might be redeployed, assigned extra work, or made accountable for something, and — BOOM! Productivity mega-explosion! Their new 51% suddenly becomes the equivalent of their old 63%, and you’ve improved outputs by a metric fuckton.

HR Manager of the Month.

Next, the bush lawyer. They know HR policy better than you. They have the current Industrial Award tattooed to the insides of their eyelids. They challenge every decision, imagining themselves champions of the underdog. So put them on that WH&S Committee! Make them the office rep! Drown them in emails, meetings, forums, feedback groups, agenda items, plus their usual work. Then when they slip up, feed them to the pack.

But, being among your more intelligent and valuable employees, bush lawyers always learn by their mistakes. A period of contrite albeit sullen subordination will be followed by even more subtle (and more effective) white-anting. HR Managers often find it’s easier to promote bush lawyers, because the single thing they covet is influence. So make them walk the talk. Getting “kicked upstairs” is nothing new, but it works.

Last of my examples are the innocents. Usually female, always good-looking, they come to you dewy-eyed with some plaint about people treating them mean: it’s bullying! Forget the fact they spend half their days promenading and doing zero work: it’s harrassment! But if you notice their lack of productivity or initiative: it’s discrimination! Because peformance management only applies to unattractive people, apparently.

Well the honeymoon is over, baby. Plastic bitches melt in the heat, so apply some. Ask them for that oh-so-boring details called proof, as in prove you’ve been bullied, harrassed or discriminated against. What, no evidence?? HR Managers usually find the only problem is that their ever-reliable charms have failed to get them what they want.

And they don’t have anything else to work with.

I could go on — the lone wolf, the rogue trader, the bad apple, the good witch, the office bike, the agony aunt — but enough for now. I’ll save my hard-earned HR pearls for another episode. In parting, can I say to all those about to HR

Avē Imperātor, moritūrī tē salūtant

and good luck.

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